17 August 2006

Regarding Guilt by Association

A Gentle Admonition to Some of Our Friends
by Phil Johnson

ared at Thinklings is really, really irked about certain watchblogs' tendency to rely on guilt-by-association arguments.

Now, in all candor, I think Jared's own attitude and rhetoric leave something to be desired. One could argue that the shrill tone of exaggerated disdain in his post was a breach of the very kind of charity he was pleading for. There might have been a kinder and more constructive way for him to point out the fallacy of so many guilt-by-association (GBA) "arguments."

And certainly there have been more egregious examples of invalid GBA attacks than the one Jared singled out. (Bill Hybels may not have personally laid hands on "Richarto the Clown" to ordain him as worship leader, but Hybels has certainly done more than anyone in our generation to foster the notion that it's OK to model our church services after circus side-shows.)

ut let's not quibble about all that. I want to acknowledge the validity of Jared's central point. The use and abuse of GBA attacks on people (especially Christian leaders) is all-too-common in the sector of the blogosphere we PyroManiacs inhabit.

For the record, those who write for this blog do make a conscious and deliberate effort to avoid making GBA attacks. I'm convinced one of the chief reasons the fundamentalist wing of 20th-century evangelicalism became so odious to the evangelical mainstream and was so wracked by internal strife is this: In some fundamentalist circles, the GBA test became the single barometer of who was judged faithful (or not).

For several weeks I've been speaking privately about this issue with some prominent bloggers who I know are committed to biblical principles of discernment. Several of us are concerned about the growing number of voices that seem willing to criticize almost anyone and everyone on no grounds other than some remote GBA connection. I don't mind saying this publicly: that attitude is positively wicked.

In the Interest of Full Disclosure. . .

I recently had a frustrating exchange of e-mails with a fairly influential woman who urged me to remove from my website a link to a pastor who is a friend of mine. Most of you would recognize my friend's name. Many of you have profited greatly from his books and his preaching ministry. He is a confessional Calvinistic Baptist.

Why did this woman insist I needed to remove my links to my friend's website? Because in a book written some 14 years ago, he quoted another author whom this woman does not approve of.

She is by no means alone in her disapproval. Neither I nor my friend would approve most of what's taught by the man whom my friend quoted from. But there was nothing wrong with the quotation itself, and my friend certainly made no blanket affirmation of the source from which he quoted.

Nonetheless, this woman would not cease protesting and has since gone public with her criticism of my friend.

As a matter of fact, this woman has been resolute and insistent in her condemnation of my friend, even though I pointed out two quotations from similarly-objectionable authors (without disclaimers of any kind), which were included on that woman's own website while she was criticizing my friend.

She did not acknowlede the point I was making or attempt to offer any explanation for the quotations on her own website. She just silently deleted the two quotations from her own website—and she has let her public criticism of my friend stand.

But Wait. That's Not All. . .

A few weeks after my original exchange with that woman, she began writing to people here and there, saying she had found some similarly objectionable quotations in one of John MacArthur's sermon transcripts. (Oddly enough, this too was a 14-year-old sermon.) She did not write to me directly about this (even though we had so recently corresponded); but she wrote to several people in my circles of fellowship.

When I learned of the new "controversy," I wrote to her to inform her that I would listen to the sermon in question and if necessary bring it to John MacArthur's attention to let him decide whether to retract the quotation or let it stand. But, I explained, he was out of state for the next two weeks, so it would be a while before John himself could respond to to the concern she had raised.

She replied by informing me that she needed an answer by the end of that week, because "a news brief" about the matter was written and ready for publication on the following Saturday.

What got her so exercised? John MacArthur had quoted statements about prayer from a list of authors including Soren Kierkegaard and at least two authors who have promoted "contemplative spirituality." MacArthur wasn't promoting any kind of mysticism, of course. (It's well known to anyone who has listened to him on prayer or spiritual gifts over the past 35 years that he opposes every kind of mysticism.) But fourteen years ago, he quoted a sentence each from these men on the importance of prayer. And he did so without interrupting his sermon at that point to make a full disclaimer about the influences from eastern religions and medieval Catholic spirituality in their teaching. This woman insisted that the sermon should not be allowed to stand, and if we disagreed, she knew people who were already prepared to "expose" John MacArthur's complicity in the "contemplative spirituality" movement.

Listen: When you're threatening to publish a "news brief" indicting John MacArthur as a clandestine confederate in the great "Contemplative Spirituality" conspiracy because of three quotations (unobjectionable as to content) in a single sermon from fourteen years ago, it might be time to take a breather and do some careful reflection about biblical discernment, the sin of being a tale-bearer, the proprieties and improprieties of typical styles of Internet discourse, and the reasons behind the command in 1 Timothy 5:19.

By the way, there are some 3500 recorded sermons by John MacArthur, dating back to 1969. It would be remarkable if somewhere in the mix he didn't say a few things he might not still affirm after more careful reflection; quote a few lines from people whose views he would otherwise execrate; mess up a fact here or there; or otherwise say things he might wish to retract if given the opportunity to edit all his years-old material rigorously.

We do occasionally edit old recordings to remove statements that reflect major doctrinal issues where John MacArthur has since changed his mind. But I wouldn't normally go back to remove an incidental quotation from someone whose theology is objectionable, as long as the quote itself doesn't promote an error. (Most reasonable people understand that recordings of 14-year-old sermons might not necessarily reflect in exacting detail the preacher's latest, most careful expression of his views.)

However, in this case, I did have our editors remove the "objectionable" quotations from the sermon in question, not in any furtive attempt to cover something up, but simply because I don't have time to answer all the questions and criticisms that would be raised by that sort of negative PR campaign. (I've been down that road before.)

What About You, Dude?

Now, I admit that I'm frequently critical on my blog. And occasionally I have had to ask someone's forgiveness for the tone or the haste with which I have spoken. (Especially in the comments-threads, where I really ought to wait longer and adjust my tone before firing off replies to some of my own regular critics.) A sincere and sensitive reader might well point me to Matthew 7:1-5 and suggest there's a rather sizable splinter (the size of a telephone pole) in my eye.

Point taken. "We all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body" (James 3:2). I'm not guiltless in all my speech or writing. I admit it.

But I don't generally lean on bare GBA arguments. (Search and see.) Furthermore, it's never been my ambition to be the first person to go public with breaking news about another minister's compromise. While I'm not one to shy away from controversy or critical analysis, I honestly don't delight in it.

And especially when I am preaching to my flock, I work hard to be as positive and edifying as possible. (I invite you to listen to a few of my sermons if my blog has given you the impression that I'm just a dour full-time critic.)

That's not to suggest that there's anything inherently wrong with negative statements per se. What we deny is as important as what we affirm. And one of my reasons for starting this blog is my conviction that mainstream evangelicals in this generation are far too gullible and affirmative in a kneejerk fashion about every spiritual fad that comes along, and I'm convinced we need some men to sound notes of caution—and sometimes even shrill alarms.

But let's not be so eager to "expose" evil that we start to fit the description of Proverbs 16:27-28: "An ungodly man digs up evil, And it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends."

And Finally. . .

Here are a few random additional thoughts and qualifications about Guilt by Association:

  • Sometimes people do incur actual guilt by association. We're not to walk in the counsel of the ungodly or have any fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, and pastors in particular have a duty to guard the flock. Ministers of the gospel are not free associate with anyone and everyone in whatever context or to whatever degree they please. Any pastor, author, or church leader whose affiliations reflect a deliberate, gospel-compromising ecumenical agenda deserves criticism for that.
  • But one of the main points I'm trying to make is that a thinly-based GBA accusation alone should not be used to condemn a godly pastor.
  • In other words, there's a vast and significant difference between merely quoting a pithy statement from, say, Dietrich Bonhoeffer—and commending Bonhoeffer as a reliable, biblically-sound theologian.
  • Lay people (and lay women especially) ought to be extremely reluctant to post public criticisms of pastors without an abundance of evidence. Better evidence than a GBA connection certainly ought to be a strict prerequisite to any public attack that could damage a faithful man's reputation.
  • Anyone is susceptible to charges of guilt by association if the accuser is willing to dig far enough. We're all connected to each other indirectly.
  • Let's not forget that Jesus' critics' chief complaint against Him was a GBA accusation (Mark 2:16-17; Luke 15:2; 19:7). By the standards of some of today's self-styled discernment "experts," that might have seemed a credible charge against Him. It was, in fact, an ungodly accusation.

Finally, someone will no doubt try to read more into my statements than what I have actually said, so I want to state explicitly that nothing I have said above was prompted by anything Ingrid Schleuter or Carla Rolfe have posted. I read and benefit from their blogs almost daily; I appreciate the passions that drive them; and I am emphatically not singling them out in any of my remarks above. Of course, I would not exempt them from this standard, either. In that sense, it applies to all of us.

Phil's signature

Oh, and just one more thing . . .

The so-called "watchblogs" are not the only ones who fall into the trap of smearing people with GBA accusations. My post-evangelical critics have at various times imputed to me almost every evil ever perpetrated by every fundamentalist in history. I've been plastered with leftover guilt from the misdeeds of everyone from Jack Hyles to J. Frank Norris by some of the very same people who complain most loudly about the watchblogs' misuse of GBA arguments! I'm also frequently savaged for comments that other people post on my blog—sometimes even after I have made a good-faith effort to refute fallacies or calm down the unruly.

I'm just saying that the GBA fallacy is by no means the exclusive domain of conservatives. So all the haughty post-evangelicals who are high-fiving one another this morning can calm down and perhaps engage in a little "contemplative" self-examination.


GL said...

I appreciate this post and I'm grateful for it. It has been easy to speculate that you are (were?) influential with particular people in the Reformed watchblogging precincts, so the fact that you make a solid argument about the implausibility of Dr. MacArthur being guilty of these charges is welcome. I don't know if this is the first time you've been troubled by their GBA methods, or whether this recent campaign against Dr. MacArthur was merely the tipping point for you to go public with your concerns. Regardless, your careful rebutal is helpful and appreciated.

To say that the situation you describe reminds me of a Campus Crusade leader's many year battle with a cult which had turned his son is NOT to say that the folks you're engaging are in a cult. I am NOT casting that aspersion. However, there is one hard-to-deny similarity between what you describe about your exchange with the watchbloggers in this instance and the cult that absorbed my friend's son. The son's responses to any and all attempts to reason biblically with him were similar to your watchblog friends' peculiar, obsessive campaign against any smidgen of connection to contemplative prayer and mysticism. There was no way to penetrate the logic loop, and any attempts to do so merely proved one was distant from the Lord. Perhaps the Lord will graciously give light to them to see what you've laid out, but I fear that their logic loop has been hermetically sealed. I wonder if you also will fall under their condemnation for refusing to denounce Dr. MacArthur as stained by association with contemplatives and mystics. If he is guilty by association, perhaps they will find you guilty by association with Dr. MacArthur...a sort of guilt by transitive property. It's a perverse, unfunny "6 degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon" world, only it's 2 or 3 degrees of guilt from any contemplative or mystic (and I'm not defending contemplatives or mystics).

Craig Schwarze said...

Best commment in the thread -

"I’ve been at more than one service where clowns would have been a really really welcome arrival."

Ain't that the truth...

Unknown said...

Brilliant and very helpful.

Of course, a crying shame that you had to post it using the services of "blogger" who are clearly happy to have all manner of heretical and non-Christian content to be published on their servers ;) ...and I suppose you can guarentee that the air you breathed as you wrote it hadn't been breathed before by someone dodgy....

Taliesin said...

Phil, a timely and needed post, IMO.

To the point late in your post I agree that there is a real sense in which we can be guilty by association. One can "aid and abet" an enemy of the gospel. But too many carry this too far. Simply quoting another source on a particular issue does not imply endorsement of everything that source has written.

The passage I keep coming back to in thinking about this tendency to judge too quickly is Luke 9:49-50. There John wants to stop the man who is not part of their group from casting out demons in Jesus' name. Jesus tells John (an imperative) not to stop Him. Too often we are like John when evaluating others.

FX Turk said...


Everybody to the limit!

That's all, fhqwhgads.

love, Strong Bad

Carla Rolfe said...

Excellent post Phil, one I appreciate a great deal, for many reasons. Your timing is also quite interesting, considering the post I put up at ENo last night. Surely this was providence. (And for the record, in case anyone is suspicious, no - Phil and I did not synchronize our watches on this topic - I've been too busy with other things, as I'm sure he has as well).

It's even more interesting that your time stamp for this post is 12:01 and mine is 12:04.

I hope your message is well received, and I hope mine is as well. We have a higher standard, and while it is very easy to get caught up in this kind of GBA train wreck, we (all) need to be extremely careful how we deal with public criticism, and really examine our motives for going public in the first place.

I really appreciate this post. Thank you so much for this.


ZF said...

Phil, when I would have been tempted to dismiss this lady as a psycho, you delt with her firmly yet in the spirit of love and concern. I don't understand this kind bullying (that is what it is) behavior by those who accountable to no one but the monitor they stare into and the keyboard they hide behind.

HeavyDluxe said...

Awesome post, Phil... I'm glad to see this kind of statement out there on another 'heavy hitter' blog.

And, cent, did you just discover Homestarrunner or something?

4given said...

Sounds like we need to gaurd against stomping out ants (14 year old quotes) while elephants (EC) are coming over the wall.

FX Turk said...


I have been addicted to HSR for about a month, and I just podcasted "everybody to the limit".

It's brilliant. I wish I had a copy of Macromedia so I could produce my own Flash 'toons. I'd lose my job and alienate my family by doing it, but you, the blog readers, are worth it.

Kim said...

With this whole GBA thing, I something think we neglect to look at what characterizes an individual rather than isolated incidents that may or may not have been done with a lot of wisdom or forethought. People change; sanctification is a process. If I am not changed in someway (albeit, in a positive one) fourteen years from now, then shame on me. I had a pastor once who became much more gracious about a certain issue over the course of time. Does that mean he fell of the evangelical wagon? No; it just meant that at a particular season in his life, God taught him something he had not learned as yet.

I agree wholeheartedly with Lisa's comment. Why are some people more concerned with little, niggling things than with bigger issues? Is it because the little ones are easier to attack?

Gordon said...

Great post, Phil. As a refugee from the kind of attitude you have described here, I can testify that it is cancerous and a burden to the very soul.

Solameanie said...


A wonderful reminder to those of us in apologetics, because it's a trap I've fallen in before..generally not intending to do so. It especially hurts when you find some really good material that seems trustworthy, and you begin forwarding future releases from said source to a select few people on an FYI basis, and then you find that some of the charges aren't quite as accurate down the road. We give our trust too easily sometimes.

Another thing that happens - sometimes quite innocently - is that many do not have the time to do in-depth research on their own, so they trust people who do have the time. And if those people get it wrong, that has a domino-like effect in terms of credibility.

May we all strive to be more careful. The enemy loves nothing more than to get Christians distracted.

candy said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this post! A couple of things that irked me for example, was equating the T4G guys with Promise Keepers for not putting scriptures with their proclamations, and the singling out of certain pastors and teachers who publically have stated they are newly reformed (so please, let's give them a chance to refine their teaching and behavior!).
Another thing that concerns me (I have done it too) is trying to be witty and sarcastic while blasting other Christians, cuz witty and sarcastic makes us look really smart.Ha...not!

4given said...

Solameanie... been there, totally know what you mean.

4given said...

On that trust and GBA issue...

There have been only 2 people I have had to de-link on my blog. One of them was a blogger my husband, pastor and elder board told me I had to de-link. The other is a woman that I found a trail of comments on various blogs that displayed backbiting... my "friend" on my blog, but on other blogs that doctrinally disagree with me, a scoffer. So the GBA permeates into who you link to on your blog.
I have learned to be careful not to quickly link someone... and I have learned not to jump into the de-linking 3rd grade-ish mentality.

Kim is right... this is a sanctification process. As bloggers, God-willing, we will see progression towards Christ-likeness ... because apparently we can't help ourselves when it comes to writing.

Lee Shelton said...

I can't believe what I'm reading! Phil Johnson is now a supporter of contemplative spirituality?! Say it ain't so!

I guess I better remove Pyromaniacs from my blogroll before someone levels that accusation against me.

Brad Huston said...

Great post Phil. I think you let Slice of Laodicea off a little easy here, but excellent points all around.


Sharad Yadav said...

More posts like this, and I'll be updating my blogroll.

HeavyDluxe said...

cent said: I have been addicted to HSR for about a month

Man... Sorry I didn't hip you to that sooner.

I find the that TGS episodes and the Japanese Cartoon email never fail to make me happy.

FX Turk said...

Great: not enough for Brad and enough to make BlueRaja somewhat happy.

We've gone soft. Our traffic is going to bottom out unless we can get pecadillo to make some bodily noises or something.

Brad Huston said...

We've gone soft

Not entirely, Frank, just with those who share our theological camp.

That said, this is still an excellent post despite Phil's "soft" conclusion.

I think your trafic is safe...as long as you continue to keep those Slice readers happy ;o)


Michael Spencer said...

Apparently, "Guilt" by association means something I'm not aware of. In the BHT post you cited, I said that one could understand Macarthur by looking at Falwell, Hyles, Jones etc, rather than just at typical American evangelicals. At no time and at no point did I say anything in any way similar to the "Guilt" aspects we read on these watchblogs. I never implied that someone wasn't a legit minister (as has been implied about Driscoll and Keller.) I never suggested that any of these men were involved in activities contrary to the faith, as is constantly implied in the association of men with contemplative prayer, etc.

At one point, your blog quoted that post, I assume favorably, and I assumed- ???- that you found the association with classic fundamentalists to be complimentary in several ways. Was I wrong?

That I am not a fundamentalist is no secret. That I might criticize them is a fact. But the post you cite is not a "Guilt" by association post, but an "Understanding" by association post.

Adam Omelianchuk said...

After reading Jared's post I am not sure where he is "pleading for charity." Rather he is "pleading for rationality" of which Slice displayed none in their shameless GBA. Could he have been nicer? I suppose, but so could Slice.

That man will not look towards men but towards Jesus! said...

This is a very timely article and well said. I have become a bit disillusioned by some of the "Discernment" Blogs and Web-sites as while their main defense of Orthodoxy against the Emergent Church is a worthy cause, too many have become sarcastic, insulting and downright disrespectful in their tone and comments.

They do not seem to realize that when they do this they destroy their witness. And when anyone who may need convincing about the dangers of the Emergent Church sees the disrespect, insults and sarcasm. They are given the impression that the Upholders of Orthodoxy are exactly what the Emergent Church says they are.

Additonally I have found that many of the "Dscernment" Web Site owners / writers do not take very kindly to being given advice to tone down their sarcasm and disrespect. The thing that people must remember is that the internet medium gives people a certain freedom to discard respectful dialogue, if one is not careful. We all must show the fruits of the Spirit when using this medium

Thank you again for this article "Blessed are the Peace makers"

candy said...

Phil sez: And one of my reasons for starting this blog is my conviction that mainstream evangelicals in this generation are far too gullible and affirmative in a kneejerk fashion about every spiritual fad that comes along, and I'm convinced we need some men to sound notes of caution—and sometimes even shrill alarms.

But let's not be so eager to "expose" evil that we start to fit the description of Proverbs 16:27-28: "An ungodly man digs up evil, And it is on his lips like a burning fire. A perverse man sows strife, And a whisperer separates the best of friends."

I think 4given says it well to state that we are stomping out ants instead of noticing the elephants charging over the wall.

I think the conviction that we should be exposing false teaching should come with the understanding of God's grace in our own lives from day to day in our demeanor, understanding of scripture, and fellowship of brethren. Therefore, if we approach falsity, perhaps we can approach it with great sorrow, and our shrill alarms are to pull others out of the muck before they sink in the mire. Our words should mirror our sorrow and genuine concern.

I love how Jonathan Edwards would give a clear picture of our wretched position and God's wrath that is so deserving and then preach about grace. Truth unimpared mingled with God's grace that we turn and repent.

I have noticed a lot more grace in many blogs lately. Not a dilution of truth, but a recognition that God sovereignly will work for His glory, and that we need to be testimonies of His work amongst the Body of Christ in its various stages of growth and functions.

Pride is the desire to be made much of. God actively opposes the proud. Humility is the desire that one does not climb higher in others estimations and points consistantly to God and His attributes.

Phil Johnson said...

Paul Mikulecky:

Long time, no see. It's good to connect with you again. Thanks for the comment.

Phil Johnson said...

Michael Spencer: "At one point, your blog quoted that post, I assume favorably, and I assumed- ???- that you found the association with classic fundamentalists to be complimentary in several ways. Was I wrong?"

Yes, of course you were wrong, if that's what you really thought.

It's astonishing that you would think I found your remark "complimentary" just because I facetiously quoted it as it it were an "endorsement." I thought you had a more well-developed sense of humor than that.

Look: as much as I hate to ape the standard N.T. Wright defense, it's pretty clear that you haven't read enough of what I have written to qualify to be one of my full-time critics. My material critiquing Hyles-style fundamentalism is both voluminous and ubiquitous.

You know, the "Emerging Conversation" is not the only theological dialogue in town. There's a pretty good conversation about fundamentalism's past and future that has been going on over at SharperIron.org for a year and a half. One truth emerged very clearly in the opening month of that conversation: no self-respecting Hyles/Sword-of-the-Lord fundie would EVER regard me as one of them.

Sharad Yadav said...


I think you should include a link to my blog in the sidebar that makes bodily noises whenever someone clicks it.

Kim said...

Mr. Blue:

I think you should include a link to my blog in the sidebar that makes bodily noises whenever someone clicks it.

If he did, my 12 year old son might just take up blog reading.

Michael Spencer said...

I wasn't writing about you at all in that post, so observing that I haven't read enough of your work to write a review of any of it actually makes sense. And it's a two way street we can both travel.

And whether or not certain fundamentalists like you or John Macarthur- and I'm sure there are fundamentalists somewhere who like absolutely no one- that doesn't vacate my assertion that an accurate understanding of your wing is aided by an understanding of fundamentalism rather than just evangelicalism.

"Guilt" by association means exactly that, and isn't part of the post cited. The post cited simply draws comparisons, not exact parallels or denouncements.

Sharad Yadav said...


I might actually enjoy it a little more myself.

Brad Williams said...

I have left comments at both the IMonk's place and here at the Pyromaniac's place. This obviously means that everyone hates me by association, and it explains the dismal traffic to my blog. I should have been more careful.

marc said...

Well Phil,
I just finished my contempletive prayer time and read this post. I'd like to comment further, but I must get to my clown led worship service and frankly, based on who you allow to comment here I don't think I'll be coming back.

Phil Johnson said...

Answer the phone: "Phil Johnson, do you disagree with her on the issue of contemplative prayer? I ask because of the "contemplative prayer conspiracy" comment you made."

I am opposed to every kind of mysticism and every kind of syncretism, including the movements today that are trying to blend various non-Christian notions about "spirituality" with Christian or quasi-Christian ideas about prayer and meditation and sell it to Christans as a kind of deeper life. I think authors who write books actually propounding those ideas need to be critiqued thoroughly, carefully, and biblically—and the church needs to be warned about their influence. I'm grateful for the work this woman and others have done in that regard. Anyone who reads my blog ought to be clear on that.

I do not, however, share the Constance-Cumbeylike perspective of those who seem to think there's a vast and well-organized conspiracy narrowly focused on the goal of using this ("contemplative") issue above all others to infiltrate and destroy solid evangelical churches. I don't agree that "contemplative spirituality" is the single, central most-monstrous-of-all-evils—especially given the prevalence of so many other errors and threats to the gospel currently flourishing in and around the periphery of evangelicalism. For instance, I think the real roots of the issue (philosophically, at least) are inclusivism and relativism, and that these things are least as deadly, and in the long run perhaps more of a threat than "contemplative meditation." And I certainly do not affirm the stance of those who seem convinced that even godly men who once quoted something Richard Foster said have become either unwitting dupes or deliberate tentacles of the Great Contemplative Conspiracy. That's not an accurate view of the way things are. And (as I said above) the ease with which some people impugn others on the thinnest of grounds is itself positively evil. We need to guard against that sin. End of point.

My admonition was not exclusively for the benefit of the woman of whom you are speaking. But since you specifically asked: As a matter of fact, I have already written directly to her more than once with a number of these very concerns, starting months ago when the first of the two issues I described above arose. After our first exchange, in which I told her I would not de-link my pastor-friend from my website merely because she found some 14-year-old quotations, she did not seem receptive at all to anything I had to say. She didn't even bother coming to me with her second complaint, which was certainly more germane to what I do for a living.

Other than that, I don't personally know her. Perhaps her replies to me and to other employees of Grace to You are out of character for her. I am willing to give her the benefit of any doubt on that.

However, even having said that (and in answer to your original question), remember that my one difference with her, spelled out in the post above, is her blithe willingness to use bare guilt-by-association arguments to impugn men who have a long track record of faithful ministry—especially when their ministries include a history of dealing with and refuting the very same unbiblical ideas they are being accused of winking at.

GeneMBridges said...

Oh my, I thought this was about Bob L. Ross and the Calvinist Flyswatter :) My bad.kz

David A. Carlson said...

A "clandestine confederate in the great "Contemplative Spirituality" conspiracy"

Can I join??

This needs a TShirt

S.G. said...

I'm confused about Willis Harman. Never heard of the guy until today and not at all sure what he has to do with Phil's post.

BTW Phil, you owe me an apology. I'm a Christian "shrink." Heck, maybe I owe you an apology.

Phil Johnson said...

iMonk: "The post cited simply draws comparisons, not exact parallels or denouncements."

I wonder, Michael, how big a hissy you would have thrown if I had written this:

I don't think I've ever said this anywhere, but I absolutely believe it: The BHT (as we've seen it in certain "fellows" who interact with this blog) is the bridge between disgruntled evangelicalism and old-line liberalism. This ought to be considered, because it explains a lot. If you look at the iMonk approach and lay aside the language of "missional living" as opposed to social concerns, you will find that what you have is liberalism, right down the line, with only a few changes. The temperament of the movement is liberal and the approach to Christianity (and ecumenism in general) is liberal. It's easy to forget this, and to assume that iMonk is a downscale populist version of Mark Driscoll or Steve Brown. Nope. Nada. No way. When you run into this "stream" of post-evangelicals, go and check up on names like Harry Emerson Fosdick, E. P. Sanders, William Sloane Coffin, or Harvey Cox. You'll understand a lot more about what you're hearing. I would be interested to know if any of the folks who have found us so wanting have any problems with the work of John Shelby Spong, for instance.


BTW, I did like your podcast #11.

SB said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Spencer said...

I'd say that's pretty much how fundamentalists look at anyone who isn't one of them, and that the post is a good inidcation that my theory is correct.

Of course, I'm sure you are as interested in being identified by fundamentalists as I am in being compared with unbelievers like Spong, Coffin and Cox. I'll leave it to our readers to decide the veracity of both claims. Seems to me its par for the course to consider your critics apostates and unbelievers.

The point is there is no GBA in saying your stream is more complex than Christianity Today and Promise Keepers. I've never posted stuff like Slice, a site that doesn't know the meaning of the word satire. I have never posted about who someone mentioned in a quote or endorsed on a book jacket or sat next to at a conference. To imply that I do so is a falsehood.

After receiving my apology, you needed to make sure you posted something appropriate. You did. As someone once said, you have your reward.

Andrew Lindsey said...

Michael Spencer
in the blogpost that is linked to in this post did not try to claim GBA toward John MacArthur in the way GBA was claimed by the other examples. In the other examples given, GBA was claimed due to a connection supposedly made by the author or speaker to a guilty party through that own author or speaker's quotation of the guilty party. Michael Spencer, in the blogpost "cited" did not claim that John MacArthur shares in the "guilt" of Jerry Falwell or Jack Hyles, etc. due to any specific quotation MacArthur made of these individuals.

Spencer does not "[draw] comparisons" between MacArthur, Hyles, and Falwell in his blogpost- as he claimed above- if he did expound on some sound point-by-point comparison, then he would truly be above the charge of GBA. Instead, he simply mentions MacArthur's name in a list that includes people who have a negative connotation with most in the blog-o-sphere. Thus, he does practice a type of GBA, albeit different from the type in the other examples, only it is Michael Spencer himself that makes the association, and not the author or speaker (in this case MacArthur) that he mentions.

And so Phil Johnson's original point in linking Michael Spencer's post- that it is not only conservative watchdog types who practice GBA- still seems to have some merit.

John Haller said...

Couple of comments.

First, Phil, someone posted about MacArthur's next book. If you could, speed up the process. The speed with which evangelicals fads come and go seems to dictate shorter publishing times. Otherwise, the fad is gone by the time the book comes out.

Second, now that you've laid out a good standard, how do we apply it. Example: Rick Warren has recently announced plans to eradicate AIDS, at least that is the goal. He has joined with others in this mission, including people who are at best dubious (ACT-UP for one). Does the GBA rule apply here or is this just a different situation altogether.

Steve Sensenig said...

Phil, I made a small observation on another blog that was discussing this, and was (appropriately) corrected for not making the remark to you, so I will submit it here instead (and have asked the other blog admin to delete it there).

Several weeks ago the subject of John Piper quoting Dallas Willard came up on a few blogs. As I read your defense of John MacArthur's quoting of "Soren Kierkegaard and at least two authors who have promoted 'contemplative spirituality'", it sounded to me to be exactly the defense of John Piper that showed up in comments following ENo's criticism of the same.

Now here's the point that bothers me a bit: While you mentioned that your admonition applies to everyone (point very well made and taken), I can't figure out why you would go (seemingly) out of your way to let us know that this wasn't prompted by anything Carla or Ingrid have written? Your eloquent defense of John MacArthur would have been very appropriate to the discussion about John Piper, don't you think?

But instead of just letting the admonition stand, you felt that (to avoid people reading too much into it??) you needed to say that it was not prompted by anything those two had written. That just seems rather odd. It gives the impression (mistaken, I hope) that you were ok with the Piper/Willard criticism, but not ok with the MacArthur/Kierkegaard GBA.

FX Turk said...

Did somebody say t-shirt?

FX Turk said...


Before Phil answers, I'd say that the rules we use to govern the meta are the same rules we use to actually blog. So, for example, I might blog on a subject and Phil just doesn't have time for it that day. Dam might blog on a subject, and I don't have time for it.

I don't speak for Phil, and my blog doesn't represent him, but Phil doesn't have to make a magisterial pronouncement on every issue that comes up -- and if he did, he'd be accused of being Truly Reformed.

So, in a nice way, stick a sock in it.

Kim said...

Frank, when are you going to offer a hooded sweatshirt? I want one.

FX Turk said...

I'll add more junk today. I had to get these designs up between brushing my teeth and making chocolate milk for my kids.

Chris Ross said...

Is there somewhere I can read some substantive dirt on Dallas Willard? I was required to read Spirit of the Disciplines in seminary (DTS no less!) and I thought it was excellent.

I'm actually serious. I know he chums with Emergent types, but can someone show me where he has written or said something we ought to be concerned about?

N.B. - I'm doing my degree research on the (possible) influence of Counter-Reformation 'contemplative' spirituality on Puritan spirituality. Most folks would be surprised at the similarities between the two (excepting more obvious differences like Roman Mary- and saint-worship, and papalism.)

Chris Ross said...

Phil et al.,

I hope my last comment/question is not breaking the relevance rule. Willard and contemplative spiriuality were mentioned in the post. Mercy!


Phil Johnson said...

Steve S: "Your eloquent defense of John MacArthur would have been very appropriate to the discussion about John Piper, don't you think?"

That's a fair question, and the answer is yes. Time and circumstances prohibited me from posting on that issue at E-No while the controversy was fresh. I actually would have posted if I could have carved out 2 hours to write a decent post about it. But Centuri0n beat me to it with a post that expressed perfectly my point of view. (In point of fact, I did make it clear to Carla through private communication that I was disappointed E-No would attack Piper with nothing more than a complaint about whom he quoted from.)

Steve S.: "I can't figure out why you would go (seemingly) out of your way to let us know that this wasn't prompted by anything Carla or Ingrid have written?"

1. It seems to me that Carla's response to her critics after the Piper incident showed a lot of humility and teachability. See, for example, this.

2. Carla wasn't the one who made the Piper post at E-No in the first place.

4. Since my post was prompted by something else and was not an easy cheap-shot attempt to dogpile publicly on Carla or her sidekick for a weeks-old issue that had already been thoroughly dissected publicly, I wanted to make that clear.

5. Ingrid and her staff of writers had nothing whatsoever to do with any of the incidents I was responding to. They already have a worldwide team of relentlessly angry critics who pound them mercilessly for every misstep they make, perceived or real. They probably receive more abuse from their critics than they deserve, and I think on the whole, they receive exponentially more unfair criticism than they hand out. In fact, for the reasons I gave at the start of my post, I think the Slice item that prompted Jared's outrage was nowhere near as outrageous as his post suggested.

6. However, since I mentioned correspondence with a "fairly influential woman" who was concerned about the threat of "contemplative spirituality," someone was sure to assume I was describing Ingrid. I wanted to make clear that I wasn't.

But lest my answer to Steve's question remain unclear to anyone, let me say clearly once more: Yes. Consigining Piper to the ranks of ecclesiastical evildoers just because he happened to quote from Dallas Willard is a classic example of the kind of GBA argument I deplore.

DJP said...

Frank -- Dam might blog on a subject, and I don't have time for it.

1. "Dam." Hm.

2. This "don't have time for it" = "don't have time to bump it"

Solameanie said...

I think there is a deeper issue at hand here beyond just the simple "guilt by association" concern. I agree totally with Phil and colleagues in the concerns they have raised. However, we also need to look at our society as it is and the lack of discernment that is prevalent.

Sadly enough, the common mentality these days is to assume if an evangelical pastor, teacher, author etc. quotes someone, that is tantamount to an endorsement. OF COURSE that is not necessarily true, but I have personally seen people in the course of my own ministry do this. Here's how it can happen for illustration:

Let's say I mention Watchman Nee in a sermon or article, and my hearer/reader goes out and begins reading Nee based on what they THINK is my approval. Then, when they encounter someone from the Local Church cult, they find that Witness Lee was an associate of Watchman Nee's. Hmm. That must mean Witness Lee was pretty solid, right?

See what I mean? People can jump the gun so easily. I appreciate what Phil said regarding Constance Cumbey. She really did a lot of good work researching the New Age, but after a while it seemed like she saw a New Ager under every rock, and she fired the blunderbuss at some people that didn't deserve it. Perhaps the blunderbuss wouldn't have been fired if more care had been exercised in quoting.

The Apostle Paul quoted pagan authors, but I think we all know Paul didn't endorse the theology of the pagan authors. But we can't assume that people in our society today can make that distinction. It is wrong to paint someone as a heretic merely because they QUOTE a heretic. However, those who choose to quote a heretic need to make it clear why they are doing so, and to point out that they don't endorse the heretic's overall theology, even though said heretic might have had a salient point on a given subject. Yes, it's a pain but I think necessary to avoid controversies such as this.

Finally, I think those who are well known, solid evangelical authors/teachers need to be more discerning in writing forwards or blurbs for books. For instance, if I am aware that there are serious problems with Brian McLaren's theology, then I am not going to hook my wagon to McLaren by writing seemingly positive forwards or blurbs.

Taliesin said...


My question is where do you draw that line. If I post favorably here should I make a disclaimer I don't agree with pre-tribulationalism? If I reference Ligon Duncan, should I state I disagree with him over paedobaptism?

What about CJ Mahaney's views on the gifts of the spirit, should I make a disclaimer about that? What about John Stott's views on eternal state of unbelievers? What about citing C.S. Lewis?

Calvin frequently quoted Bernard of Clairvaux. I don't assume that means we should embrace every aspect of Bernard's theology (or even every aspect of Calvin's theology).

I'm not sure I have a complete solution, and sometime's I will qualify my references, but the better approach, it seems to me, is to work on teaching those who hear us to be more discerning. After all, someone may pick up a book at a Christian bookstore without anyone's recommendation and they need to be able to evaluate it fairly.

Chris Ross said...

'Answer the phone',

Thank you very much for the link to the articles on Willard. I read the first one (http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue91.htm) ). While I understand DeWaay's concerns, I think he presents a caricature of Willard and of contemplative spirituality. What I perceive, not only in DeWaay's article but in the wider Protestant community, is a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding resulting from a knee-jerk reaction to anything with any association with Roman Cath'm.

Here's a quote from DeWaay:

"Even though decrying some of the excesses of monasticism, Willard is fond of the monastics and thinks that the Reformation left us with no practical means of spiritual growth. He says, “It [Protestantism] precluded ‘works’ and Catholicism’s ecclesiastical sacraments as essential for salvation, but it continued to lack any adequate account for what human beings do to become, by the grace of God, the kind of people Jesus obviously calls them to be.”43 This is simply false. Luther believed in MEANS OF GRACE that God has provided all true believers that they might grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.44 The difference is that MEANS OF GRACE are what God has provided for all Christians for all ages and they are determined by God, not man. These are revealed in the Bible. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES are man-made, amorphous, and not revealed in the Bible; they assume that one is saved by grace and perfected by works."
[Emphasis by CAPS mine]

The bottom line is, though, 'spiritual disciplines' and 'means of grace' overlap conceptually. Here is Willard's list of spiritual disciplines:

"Willard lists the following: voluntary exile, night vigil of rejecting sleep, journaling, OT Sabbath keeping, physical labor, solitude, fasting, study, and prayer.37 Willard then lists “disciplines of abstinence” (solitude, silence, fasting, frugality, chastity, secrecy, sacrifice) and “disciplines of engagement” (study, worship, celebration, service, prayer, fellowship, confession, submission).38"

And here's a typical list of Puritan 'means of grace':

private and corporate prayer, meditation, watchfulness, Bible study, fasting, fellowship, taking Communion, hearing the Word preached, self-examination.

DeWaay alleges Willard's (and medieval Rome's) 'spiritual disciplines' are not biblical, or at least that some of them aren't. I would agree that maybe a small handful are not biblical, but almost all ARE biblical if one looks not just at direct biblical prescription, but also at biblical DEscription, ie, what is done in Scripture by saints of that time.

I could say much more, and I appreciate the links. I'll read more and continue to check Willard and others out. I would just urge folks to look deeper before reacting against contemplative spirituality. I think Protestantism could learn a lot from it. In this sentiment I am right behind people like Don Whitney (http://www.spiritualdisciplines.org/).

Chris Ross said...

'Answer the phone',

Thanks for the comment. In my experience, 98% of the stuff talked about and advocated by late-medieval monastics, Counter-Reformation writers and even folks like Willard is nothing that could be considered 'mystical'. That's a very ambiguous term anyway.

There have been advocates of mystical, Eastern-ish, 'apophatic'(emptying of the mind rather than filling it with truth) approaches within Christendom, but they have not been as popular or prevalent, even within medieval Catholicism, as some would think.

Having said all that, I will say there seem to be quite a lot of Protestants unreflectively embracing all kinds of unusual methods that may be mildly helpful at best but downright dangerous at worst. I don't want to start any new debate here, but labyrinth-walking is one example that comes to mind.

My ultimate concern is whether a means/discipline/exercise jives with Scripture, and secondarily, whether it jives with the witness of faithful figures in the church's history.

Brad Huston said...

They probably receive more abuse from their critics than they deserve, and I think on the whole, they receive exponentially more unfair criticism than they hand out.

Phil, but as you have pointed out this doesn't excuse an admonishment when deserved.

In fact, for the reasons I gave at the start of my post, I think the Slice item that prompted Jared's outrage was nowhere near as outrageous as his post suggested.

Phil, this is probably the most perplexing part of all this because the Slice article that started this whole affair was the perfect example of what you were driving at in your post. Willow Creek has their fair share of eyebrow raisers, no question, but to string them up for what this contributing chruch did is the very thing your post seems to be driving at - unless your limiting your arguments to mere quote citations.

I don't understand why you seem to be giving the appearance of going out of your way to carefully explain why you are willing to look the other way when it comes to Slice. Do you approve of the logic Slice used in this case?


Chris Ross said...

'Answer the phone',

Thanks for the candid testimony. It sounds like your experience must have been very frustrating and dis-heartening. I have 3-year old and 1-year old sons, and I'm just beginning to understand the jealous protectiveness of fatherhood. I'm sorry you and your son had to go through what you did.

I suppose there is a lot of mumbo-jumbo connected with 'contemplative spirituality'. I think the challenge for all of us is to pick out the gold from the, well,'skubula'.

I'm working on a degree in church history, as I mentioned, mostly reading stuff from the 16th century. One of my ultimate goals is to help the church pick out the 'gold' teaching from Protestant and pre-Reformation traditions, and apply it today. I believe most evangelicals would benefit if they made things like fasting and BIBLICAL meditation a part of their spiritual lives, as these were the norms in OT and NT times and in most of the history of the church. We 21st-century Western evangelicals are the exception in shying away from these.

If we had time, I would comment on the things you mention on a case-by-case basis. For instance, I don't see any value in praying the stations of the Cross, though I could see where Protestants focusing attention on the passion account in a concentrated way, like for a weekend retreat, would be beneficial. But many of the things you mentioned sound to me as off-the-wall and heretical as they obviously sound to you: the Bible as 'gray', equating faith and doubt, repetitive, mantra-like music and prayers, etc.

It's unfortunate when unsuspecting evangelicals get involved in hooey like you mention, but it's also unfortunate when evangelicals ignore 2000 years of tradition + the biblical witness because of unnecessary prejudices and misconceptions. Like I said, my interest is to help the believing church discern the baby in the midst of the bath-water.

Consider just three Scriptures (in defense of biblical meditation and fasting) for instance:

1. Psalm 1 says the blessed man meditates on God's Word day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

2. Paul lkewise told the Philippians to think about and reflect on whatever things are true, noble, just etc. (Philippians 4:8)

3. And the church in Antioch prayed AND FASTED before sending Paul and Barnabas out on their missionary journey. (Acts 13:2)

Those are just the tip of the iceberg. I gre up in a dispensational-leaning Bible church, and I did't hear one thing about fasting, or receive any indication that as a Christian I ought to consider making it a part of my life, until I was in college and some charismatic Methodist friends told me they did it. I think that's kind of indicative of the neglect of some of the these legitimate, biblical spiritual disciplines one finds among evangelicals nowadays.

But I'm going too long and this isn't the place. God bless you. Please feel free to email me for further discussion!

Solameanie said...


No doubt it can be a tough call sometimes. Posting something here at a blog where there is relatively free-wheeling discussion is one thing. But if I am writing a book and use a quote that might buttress something I am saying, if the person I am quoting has really dubious theology I would need to at least make that known, and that I do not endorse the theology. Or better yet, a sermon. I could well say that Sun Myung Moon had something astute to say regarding politics, but I'd have to say "let no one make the mistake of assuming that I endorse Moon's theology." I probably would be better off making my point without the quote.

I think this is a good example of how teachers fall under stricter judgment. I don't think we need get overly paranoid about it. Just use caution and have some awareness of who our audience is.

In general, I think Bible-believing theological conservatives should avoid using false teachers to glean quotes. Too many potential landmines. We have plenty of Scripture to quote. The cynic in me wonders if some people use quotes to show the rest of us how well read they are. Then my charitable side kicks in to rebuke the cynic in me.

It's no fun being a Solameanie.

Phil Johnson said...

Brad: "Willow Creek has their fair share of eyebrow raisers, no question, but to string them up for what this contributing chruch did is the very thing your post seems to be driving at - unless your limiting your arguments to mere quote citations.

"I don't understand why you seem to be giving the appearance of going out of your way to carefully explain why you are willing to look the other way when it comes to Slice. Do you approve of the logic Slice used in this case?"

Where shall I start?

1. I'm hardly "look[ing] the other way." Devoted friends of Slice no doubt will think I'm making a federal case out of something their critics had misconstrued in the first place.

2. I'm not sure the issue here is really all about "logic." (And in any case, I'd want to hear Ingrid's own response to her critics about the clown post before rendering an opinion on how "logical" her position is.) But I'm more inclined to see it as a less-than-meticulous ellipsis in the connection she drew between the clown-led service and the policies of the Willow Creek Association.

3. As I was trying to say in my opening comments to the original post, I'm not absolutely certain those who insist Bill Hybels should be totally exempt from criticism for clown-led church services really have any more grounds for their position than Ingrid has for hers.

4. In other words, would Bill Hybels or the Willow Creek Association officially discourage, encourage, or be indifferent to a clown-led church service? I don't actually know, but let's be honest: it's kind of hard to imagine Hybels speaking out against the idea. And personally, I don't really see where it's out of sync with things I know he has done at Willow Creek. (Apparently, Chagy the Clown had a part in Willow Creek's recent outreach somehow or another.)

5. But since I don't actually know whether Hybels would actually have approved the idea of a clown officiating at the Lord's Table, I personally would have left Hybels' name out of it unless I could quote him on the issue. On the other hand, perhaps Ingrid does know something about Hybels stance on clown worship that I don't know, and she simply neglected to post all the details she knew.

6. And, further, perhaps Jared wrote directly to Ingrid, or thoroughly researched Hybels' views on clown ministry for himself, and thus Jared actually verified that Ingrid had nothing more than a GBA argument for blasting Hybels. If so, he did not say so before blasting Ingrid. So it seemed to me on both sides that harsh blasts were used when (in this case, at least) more reasoned arguments and better information might have served both sides better.

7. As for your main question, here are the chief reasons I bent over backward not to suggest that Slice is more guilty of using careless or invalid arguments than their post-evangelical critics are: a) Because I really, truly don't believe they are; and b) Because I figured some of Slice's usual gang of critics would indulge in childish displays of triumphalism and virtual high-fiving the moment they read my post. (I was absolutely right about point b), BTW.)

8. Yeah, yeah, I know: on one or two rather memorable occasions, I myself have issued harsh blasts when more fact-filled, reasonable arguments might have served better. I'm not justifying it. And I'm not trying to suggest that either Ingrid or Jared is any more prone to that fault than I am. I'm just saying it's the wrong way for anyone to criticize anyone, no matter who is on the giving or receiving end.

9. However, my admonition does apply to all of us: we sometimes need to be more careful in our fact-gathering; we often need to be more tempered in our criticisms; and we always ought to hold off GBA-based criticisms of this or that individual until we know and can demonstrate reasonably and conclusively what that person's actual convictions are.

10. I'm sure someone will cut and paste this whole thing someday when they figure I deserve to have it flung back at me. Have at it. Indulge yourself. Make the most of it.

Phil Johnson said...

H. C. "It's unfortunate when unsuspecting evangelicals get involved in hooey like you mention, but it's also unfortunate when evangelicals ignore 2000 years of tradition + the biblical witness because of unnecessary prejudices and misconceptions. Like I said, my interest is to help the believing church discern the baby in the midst of the bath-water."

My sentiments exactly. It's not healthy to devote oneself so much to the full-time study and refutation of a single wrong doctrine (whether it be "contemplative spirituality" or Arminianism) and neglect to master the full scope of biblical doctrine and spiritual devotion; church history; and above all, Scripture itself (speaking here about the Whole Counsel of God—not just the bits of the Bible that refute the teachings of Renovare).

Steve Sensenig said...

Phil, I've been out all day, so I'm just now seeing your response. Thank you for your gracious response.

Cent, thanks for...oh, wait. Let me stick the sock in before I respond to you.

mmph mmmmph phhmmmmmph mmmmmmmphm

Brad Huston said...


As always, you're patience with me and the time you have taken to answer my questions is deeply appreciated.

As an aside, I've just finished listening to your dismantle of Dave Hunt's book, "What Love is This?" and was both encouraged and impressed by how well and thoughtfully you handled that situation some years ago.

Anyway, back to my annoying self...

I'm hardly "look[ing] the other way." Devoted friends of Slice no doubt will think I'm making a federal case out of something their critics had misconstrued in the first place.

I think you're reading that in here and have nothing to worry about since you've been very careful to claim otherwise concerning Slice. The only way that they could do this is to dishonestly rip snippets from their context, rather than consider the whole body of work and the subsequent comments you've made.

I'm not sure the issue here is really all about "logic."

Well...Ingrid was pretty clear (in jsut the title of the offending post and it's conclusion no less) as to what she was getting at:

"Clown-Led Worship Compliments of Willow Creek Association"

"We can thank Bill Hybels for including this apostate body in his Willow Creek Association."

I suppose you could ask Ingrid for clarification, but it seems clear and plain that she believes that the whole clown thing was endorsed by Hybels on the sole basis that they belong to Hybels' association - an association that shares resources and is not a governing body. It would have been far different if Ingrid had called for Hybles to take action. Instead, she just went to publication with insinuations that couldn't possibly be true at face value according to what she knows -unless she actually did contact Bill for comment/clarification/admonishment and that somehow went missing from this post.

I agree with you that Hybels probably won't speak out about this nonsense but this is a far cry from endorsing it (i.e. "...including it in his Willow Creed Association") and that he is promoting it (i.e. ..."Compliments of Willow Creek Association").

The more I read this excerpt(ironically, as small as it is) the more I think Jared might have more of a point than you realize.

I've also noted that the tone at Slice comes across as overtly suspicious and harsh. Maybe it's just me, but the choice of lanuage used over there doesn't always necessary lend to projecting things like patience, gentleness and forebearance in the course of admonishments.


Solameanie said...

Everyone mind if I throw in a bit of sober reflection here? This business about the "clown service" bugs me viscerally and I'll try to explain why. This is more "impression" than anything well thought out, so I hope it makes sense.

As I read Scripture and think about worship of our holy God, and then look at what is passing for worship in some circles these days, I am amazed that there isn't more trepidation. Mercy, the Lord struck people dead for not entering the Holy of Holies properly. God did not allow Moses to enter the Promised Land because he didn't "treat Me as holy" before the people. We can only enter the presence of the Lord because Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose again from the dead for our justification. Paul warns us that if people partake of the Lord's Supper in a wrong way, they are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

There is much more I could say here from Scripture. And some defend services with clown suits?

Yes, there is great joy in the Lord. Yes, I even believe God has a sense of humor. However, like all things, there is a time and place for it. Worship to me doesn't seem to be the appropriate time or place for fun and games. I don't think I am being a legalist to raise that caution, either.

Phil Johnson said...

Brad: "I've also noted that the tone at Slice comes across as overtly suspicious and harsh. Maybe it's just me, but the choice of lanuage used over there doesn't always necessary lend to projecting things like patience, gentleness and forebearance in the course of admonishments."

My point about Slice was twofold but fairly simple: 1) My post wasn't targeting Slice or Ingrid Schlueter in particular; and 2) I didn't think Ingrid's clown post was as egregious as the reaction at Thinklings indicated. I've seen lots worse examples of GBA abuse on both sides of the fundamentalist/post-evangelical divide.

Now, that doesn't oblige me to defend every aspect of the tone or content of Ingrid's post. I did say I think Bill Hybels should have been left out of it. However, once more: my post and my subsequent comments were not just about that post or that blog, but about a principle that applies to all of us.

In fact, the principle applies this way, too: The fact that I have a link to Slice in my blogroll does not mean I have to agree with everything they say, nor does it morally obligate me to post a critique or disclaimer every time Ingrid or her team post something I disagree with—any more than my link to Thinklings puts me under the duty of voicing my disapproval every time they post something that offends me.

My link to Slice and my comments above also don't oblige me to do a detailed autopsy of Ingrid's post on demand for others who might have been more offended than I was by it.

In fact, if someone imagines that my refusal to make a detailed critique of Ingrid's post automatically makes me complicit in whatever breach of charity people see in that post, it seems to me that attitude involves its own kind of GBA fallacy.

If anyone else wants to criticize Slice, please go there and do it. Complaining about them at my blog (not to mention taunting me to complain about them here) implicitly violates the principle I wrote this post about.

Chris Ross said...

Phil - Thanks for your kind words above.

Answer the phone - Thanks for the MacArthur quote. I think he's so full of it. (Ha ha, just seeing if anyone was really reading this). No, I agree enthusiastically with MacArthur, and I think the Acts reference (Acts 13:2) I mentioned above accords with his teaching here. I think fasting is always to be auxiliary to prayer, and is necessary when the saint is in a time of great need or distress or anxiety.

My main point was that a lot of evangelicals, when you say 'fast' will immediately bring out the legalism card or the Pelagianism card or the monastic/Catholic card. And this, I think, is unfortunate. I have benefited very, very much by incorporating this discipline into my spiritual life at the appropriate times -- so much so that I have been compelled to 'spread the fasting gospel' to other Christians who still think like I did before I knew anything about it.

Of course it's not the meat and potatoes of the Christian life -- but it's an important side dish (to use an unusual and ironic metaphor)!

Thanks again for your comments. God bless.

Carla Rolfe said...

In light of Dan's post (above this one) I'm not sure if this is dead-horse-beating, but I would just like to respond to a couple of things:

• Steve Sensenig: I'm glad you decided to post this question here.

• scottyB: "I'm glad there is a new direction at ENo and posts and comments like these will be repented of."

You seem to be making my apology at ENo into something that it wasn't. I publicly apologized for times that I may have gone over the line in what I believe to be mockery of those I disagree with – and – those times when I might not have been as careful as I could have been when communicating to readers who is influencing who, in evangelical circles. This has at times, been misread as GBA, and that is not the message I ever intended to send at all. As Phil said earlier, we (especially women) need to be very careful with how we address these things publicly, and that has been a conviction of mine for quite some time now.

If you have issue with what my co-contributor at ENo, posts at other blogs, then I’d suggest you address her, at the blog she posted at – rather than make it look like this is an "ENo" issue, or a Carla issue (Phil made it perfectly clear in his initial post that this was not about ENo or Slice and yet this general admonition certainly does apply to each and every one of us).

I really got a lot out of John Piper's post that Phil linked to, and I would encourage everyone to go read it, if they haven't yet.

• Phil: I greatly appreciate your courtesy in letting this be discussed here - and I hope it's of some benefit to the readers as far as clearing the air goes. Clear air is good.

I also appreciate your honesty about these things, even when you don't agree with those of us you link to. It's good to get these things out on the table rather than let speculation run amok.


SB said...

fair enough Carla-I contacted Denise-and asked for her email to speak with her privately.
I agree with your point. Please forgive me for my condescending tone, Carla-I do belive that both you and Denise are headed in a new direction.


Steve Sensenig said...

Steve Sensenig: I'm glad you decided to post this question here.


No problem. Your correction of me on the other blog was quite warranted and fair, and I was more than willing to respond to that in this way.

Brad Huston said...


This will be my last comment submitted to Pyromaniacs so if you'd suffer me for a bit of brief clarification....

My link to Slice and my comments above also don't oblige me to do a detailed autopsy of Ingrid's post...

I never said that they should.

The fact that I have a link to Slice in my blogroll does not mean I have to agree with everything they say...

Why would you think I would adovocate this? Have you ever seen my blogroll? I link to folks I vehemently disagree with me all the time - so I can certainly appreciate this stance as it would be hypocritical for me to say otherwise.

But I never even insinuated this at all, I was just referring to one instance where the said instance related so very well (in my opinion, obviously) to what was wrote here. But I get it, Phil, we don't agree.

....not to mention taunting me to complain about them here

This is way out bounds here, Phil. I didn't taunt you and after reading my comment over several times, you had to read in and presume this intent into my words. I was hoping you'd see my point with a little background as to my thinking on the subject, but yes, I acknowledge that you don't agree at all so I considered the matter dropped.

Your comments about me expressing my opinions here as to Slice's tone is noted, and for that I apologize as well as for any unintended offense.


Phil Johnson said...


The first four paragraphs of my previous comment were an answer to your comment.

The remaining two paragraphs, addressed rather amorphously to "someone" and "anyone else," was a general comment to everyone in general and no one in particluar. I was attempting to get the comment-thread back on topic and end what seemed to me to be a steady and growing stream of remarks (by no means all of them coming from you), using the meta here to discuss recent transgressions that people feel occurred on another blog.

I was trying to make it clear for about the tenth time that I have already said what I intend to say about Slice, and that even though I haven't said everything I might say about the subject, it's NOT the subject of this post, and what I did say was sufficiently clear.

After I've said that same thing so many times and the same question keeps coming up anyway, that sure feels like taunting to me.

However, I did not accuse you or anyone of doing that. In fact, I actually said that "anyone else" inclined to criticize Slice ought to take it to them directly and not post such complaints in the meta here, because to keep complaining about them or to fish for complaints from me about them here "implicitly violates the principle I wrote this post about."

I stand by that. I rather suspect if you hadn't immediately applied it to yourself (which was not my intention), you would have agreed with it, too.

That man will not look towards men but towards Jesus! said...

This was an excellent article and I am heartened to see Carla and others open and accepting of it. It shows a true Spirit led humility and willingness to accept good council when they recognize it.

However I think Slice was let off far too easily. And I think everyone should take notice and be troubled by their lack of response on this thread or even on their web site.

As Christians we must always admonish in Love. And always seek as Paul encouraged, to bring brothers and sisters back into good fellowship.

There is a way in which to inform people of the dangers of the Emergent Church that uses Wisdom. And I believe that True Discernment knows Wisdom. It is not wisdom to use degrading, humiliating and down right disrespectful language towards people, no matter how much in error you think they are or how rude they become to you. We are to practice the fruits of the spirit at all times.

And in the internet blogging arena it is doubly so more needed. It is easy in this medium to lose all decorum. It gives a certain unrestrained frankness that can destroy a person’s witness.

I have found that Slice seems to consider itself above reproof. And this is a very dangerous place to be. None of us are above reproof. It seems to think that its job of "discernment" has to be above reproof. And this is downright wrong.

For this reason I do not believe that they have been unjustly criticized, or too heavily criticized by others.

To give an example, they had the horrible lack of wisdom to use the word Pedophile as part of a title in one of their articles. Do they not know how explosive that word is in today’s society and what it insinuates. This is not wisdom. This is arrogance.

Additionally they treat anyone who questions anything on their site as at the very least of being an unknowing sympathizer of the Emergent Church Movement.

Discernment with Wisdom should always lean towards Compassion.

Our Legal system was based on the assumption that it was better to let a guilty person go free rather than have one innocent person convicted. This was based on Christian albeit Enlightenment principles.

Shouldn’t Discernment Web Sites abide by this principle?

God Bless you Carla and DJP, you have recognized that God should always be given the glory and you have recognized when writings were moving away from doing that. humbled yourselves and repointed everyone to him.

SB said...

I deleted my posts except for the last one where I had to concede that I was wrong and that Carla was right. I repent for my bad attitude on this thread. Thanks Phil for being gracious.

Have a good Lord's Day all


Diane R said...

While I agree with the tenor of your post, the phrase, "and laywomen especially disturbed me. I'm not sure where that came from. I've read plenty of male bloggers that do the guilt-by-association thing too.

Lindon said...

>>>Sadly enough, the common mentality these days is to assume if an evangelical pastor, teacher, author etc. quotes someone, that is tantamount to an endorsement. OF COURSE that is not necessarily true, but I have personally seen people in the course of my own ministry do this>>>

This is really the problem. And why possibly the GBA problem has become so prevalent.

People are not reading scripture and only studying what is put in front of them at church. Much of it is dubious.

I was in a service not too long ago in a conservative church where the pastor said that Bono was saved. Who knows if Bono is saved but I thought it was dangerous for him to make that declaration in light of what we see. Should I question that pastors credibility? Guilt by Association?

Also, my former mega sells Osteen, Bell, Joyce Meyer, Dan Miller and all kinds of books in their bookstore. The attitude with attendees is that if it is in there, it must be correct teaching. And, Hybels is quoted in many sermons there. Should I question their teaching...guilt by association?

Let's say that Osteen is correct at least 10% of the time. So we quote him. But his other teaching if false. Have we led someone astray by quoting him? Is there Guilt by Association here?

I came across something Dallas Willard wrote that appalled me. In this book, he was saying that Christians who focus too much on Atonement are Vampire Christians. And we need to move beyond 'sin management' to Kingdom of God on earth stuff....

So if my Sunday School teacher loves Dallas Willard, should I be concerned? Is there guilt by association here?

I am just an ignorant person who is wondering where the line is drawn.

~Mark said...

I've been guilty of over-GBA myself, but have caught myself in the last year or so noticing myself seeing it more clearly on certain blogs, how because someone drove down the same street as "teacher X" they must be in cahoots.

Definitely something to be discerning in.

Anonymous said...

Good to read an oldie but goodie...